By Owen Dhliwayo 

Exhumation in the forensic pathology is the act of lawfully bringing out a buried dead human body as evidence in a legal case like paternity, cause of death, rape and so forth.

On the other hand, exhumation can be done in order to repatriate the body from another country or place for burial, like in the case of Hebert Chitepo in 1981. Burial of a loved one is an expression of grief by the surviving family in a way consistent with their cultural values and beliefs.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe died on 6 September 2019 and was buried in Kutama village.

For three weeks, Zimbabweans and world audience were treated to the drama of where Robert Mugabe was to be buried. It became a contest between the cultural veneration of the dead and government in the context of a political struggle over legitimation and recognition of the National Heroes shrine.


Regardless of the contestation, Mugabe family remains an institution, with its own traditional family structures powerfully embedded in unique practices. Therefore, it is imperative to respect its decision as a family and allow the late Robert Gabriel Mugabe to rest in peace.

The National Heroes Acre symbolizes bravery and selflessness by Zimbabweans against oppression. However, some politicians strongly believed that the shrine has been desecrated through projecting it as a partisan burial site.

Luminary heroes like Dumiso Dabengwa refused to be buried at the national shrine. Robert Gabriel Mugabe is said to have indicated to his family on where he preferred to be buried, which in this case was at his homestead.

Social importance of burial places is clear but in the Mugabe case, it is more of political importance that is at play. The national shrine presents us with a window into the lives of men and women who sacrificed their lives. Thus, reburial of Mugabe at the national shrine will enable the nation to recognize the past.


The Emmerson Mnangagwa government obsession with Mugabe appears to be a devotion to his public service and the desire to have such devotion be memorialised at the national shrine.

Thus, his exhumation brings out the most solemn patriotism and the government’s most humane reflections of such attributes. This can be successful only if the Mugabe family is divided on the exhumation desire.

The exhumation debacle has involved traditional leaders who are custodians of culture and traditions. Mugabe is being haunted by his own words which he uttered when Cephas Msipa passed away in October 2016. He famously said that; “The dead will not choose where to be buried.”

The traditional and the magistrates courts both ruled in favour of exhumation and ordered the state to preside over Mugabe’s re-burial.

However, the Mugabe family insisted on leaving him where they buried him. They had conducted a traditional funeral followed by interment in his homestead.

The dead deserve respect. Why the obsession with Mugabe’s reburial?

There is more to the exhumation than what meets the eye. The legal and customary onslaught on the Mugabe family has been heightened with one objective only, to have Mugabe reburied at the national shrine.

A united family will stand the heat for the preservation of its values and beliefs but a divided family will enhance the machinations of those who seek to have Mugabe exhumed.

Lack of clarity on the need to have Mugabe exhumed becomes a breeding ground for speculation by the public. There is a lot of speculation that is configured around our cultural beliefs and traditions as Africans.

The issue of rituals by political leadership during internment of a national hero becomes prominent, as well as the whereabouts of a scepter for rulership. The scepter speculation was started by Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwawo.

He posted on his micro blogging site on the desire to have the scepter from the former President. These speculations can never be treated as facts but can grow in the absence of clear position on exhumation. The family has made its decision according to its values and practices, and no other institution can go against the position.

In Zimbabwe, family values and practices are therefore conflated with all the habits of the nation and all the feelings of patriotism, hence they derive a peculiar force.

These values and practices are separate from politics but now appear to be under attack from political force.

It is more important to seek the consent of the family than to frog march it to the national shrine. Such an approach clearly points to democratic governance and allow the principle of consenting to family values and practices. Thus, the government must promote an action of consent and civility in this matter.

As the legal and customary battle continues, Zimbabweans interrogate the significance of the national shrine within the family values and practices.

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